Bill Whitaker

Union County Progressives

Today, the right to vote in the United States is the result of massive popular struggles for democracy, civil rights and women’s suffrage.

The United States Constitution did not originally define who was eligible to vote, allowing each state to determine eligibility. Most states allowed only white male adult property owners to vote. Freed slaves could vote in four states. Women were largely prohibited from voting, as were men without property. Non-white Americans could vote in some jurisdictions — provided they could meet the property requirement. By 1856, white men were allowed to vote in all states regardless of property ownership. However, requirements for paying taxes remained in five states.

Popular post-Civil War movements resulted in constitutional amendments to extend voting rights to broadening groups of citizens. These extensions state that voting rights cannot be denied or abridged based on the following: “Race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (15th Amendment, 1870),”On account of sex” (19th Amendment, 1920), “By reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax” for federal elections (24th Amendment, 1964), “Who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age” (26th Amendment, 1971) (ACLU “Voting Rights Act”)

Voting rights are under attack nationwide as Republican-dominated states pass voter suppression laws leading to significant burdens for eligible voters trying to exercise their most fundamental constitutional right. Since 2008, states across the country have passed measures to make it harder for Americans — particularly black people, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities — to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. (Wikipedia)

Laws requiring photo IDs to vote disproportionately affect minority, handicapped and elderly voters who do not normally maintain driver’s licenses.

States requiring photo IDs have made it difficult for eligible voters to acquire a photo ID by closing Department of Motor Vehicles locations in areas with concentrations of voters presumed likely to vote for an opposing party.

Purging voter roles through elimination of voters with similar names on the false assumption they were voting more than once has disenfranchised thousands of eligible voters. In Ohio, voter roles were purged if an eligible voter had voted infrequently on the false assumption the voter had moved. In 2015 alone, hundreds of thousands of voters were removed under Ohio’s unlawful purge practice. Many of them arrived at the polls to vote only to learn that they were no longer registered.

Gerrymandering is used to redraw electoral districts into often-convoluted shapes that group an opposing party’s voters in such a way that more members of the party in control of the process are elected than their votes justify. A recent Pennsylvania court decision corrected previous gerrymandering and will likely result in a more fair distribution of Pennsylvania’s congressional representation.

Inequality in distribution of election-day resources suppresses votes by providing more polling places in areas more likely to vote for the party in control and fewer to places where opponents are stronger. Under-resourced election areas can result in long lines at polling places, requiring some voters either to wait hours to cast a ballot or to forgo their right to vote in that election. Voters who cannot wait the required amount of time are therefore effectively disenfranchised, while voters in well-funded areas with sufficient voting capacity may face minimal or no waiting time.

Other forms of voter suppression include limitations on early voting, disenfranchisement of felons who have served their sentences, disenfranchisement of transgender persons, and disinformation about voting procedures.

With Republicans controlling many state legislatures, Congress and the White House, voter suppression is a serious problem for 2018 and 2020 elections. Voter suppression, the influence of Russia and other nations on the 2016 presidential election together with President Trump’s false statements about massive voter fraud are major attacks on election integrity and the future of democracy in America.

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